DAYPART small plates
The chorizo butter-studded baked littleneck clams, the divers scallops and the
grilled octopus are three standout seafood small plates of the eight offered on the lunch
menu. “Octopus needs to be cooked just to a degree of doneness—not overcooked,”
Pareja says. “If overcooked, it feels ‘sandy’ on the palate. When cooked correctly, it
should have a little bite, like al dente pasta. Any more than that and it loses its quality.”
He orders octopus from Spain, deeming it consistently tender and sweet.
Another popular small plate is fried artichokes. Pareja blanches them whole, cools
them in the refrigerator, peels and cuts into quarters. They are crisped to order. Whole
Meyer lemon cooked in ginger is emulsified with olive oil, and the whole rind is used
to make a sauce to serve with the artichokes.
Located on the 12th floor of the newly remodeled Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, Torali
Italian—Steak is the latest venue from Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group. Gregory
Elliott oversees and leads the Torali operation—a restaurant, two private dining rooms, The
Rooftop at Torali, a bar and the market area in the lobby. “This is a 500-room hotel, so we’re
serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus, there’s an enormous banquet space,” he says.
True to its Italian culinary roots, small plates here are called cicchetti, with a menu
that crosses lunch, dinner, bar and rooftop. One of Elliott’s signatures is polenta fries
made with local cornmeal from Three Sisters Garden, Kankakee, Illinois. “We make
the polenta and serve with a Taleggio fonduta. The fries are smothered in Taleggio
cheese, plus Calabrian chili, a mix of parsley, shallots and Parmesan, gremolata-style,
and marinated olives. We’re thinking food that’s fun to share,” he says.
Meatballs on small-plates menus are legion, but Torali’s meatballs are unique.
“Smoked pancetta gives a smoky bite, plus, there’s lots of egg and cheese—it’s a little
Small plate, big playground
Calabasas Hills, California-based The Cheesecake
Factory, part of the culinary landscape since 1972, is
an American classic. Its food quality and menu variety
consistently earn top kudos.
Bob Okura, vice president of culinary development/
corporate executive chef, has been overseeing The
Cheesecake Factory’s menus for about three decades.
Acknowledging that the brand is known for its
generous portions, he recognizes that with the shifting
to healthier lifestyles, small plates give guests options
to treat themselves a little better in the way they eat.
With more than 200 choices on the main menu, small
plates have increased the variety for guests, because
they’re not simply smaller versions of entrees. “I think
small plates provide a platform for everyone for to
have fun. And shareable also allows more freedom in
developing something new,” Okura says. Additionally,
he sees it as a way for guests to try something without
having to invest in an item they might not like.
Nationwide, the three top-selling small plates are fresh
tomato/basil/cheese flatbread, crispy crab bites and
chicken samosas. “Crab is looked on as indulgent,
so by offering something in contrast to a regular-size
crabcake that would be expensive, we’ve made them
into bite-size balls, six to a skillet, so you have all the
flavor of a regular-size crabcake.”
Okura loves small plates. “They allow us a much
bigger playground for creative energies. We really enjoy
doing them, and have become much more choosy
in regard to what we offer. Because they’re not fully
composed dishes—could be just the veggie or just the
protein—it gives us room to play on the plate.”
bit of a one-off on the typical meatball,” Elliott says. The meatballs are dusted with
flour, flash-fried in olive oil and cooked in marinara sauce. “To serve, we warm them
up in what we call the ‘meatball marinara,’ then garnish with ricotta salata, garlic
breadcrumbs and basil.”
Small-plates items can often be cross-utilized from lunch to bar to dinner, and
menued by popular demand. But one has to be smart about it, Elliott says. For example,